"It's just not right."
This was NHL's Scott Gomez's response to a child being told that they can't play a sport. Something that was said to the girls' high school hockey team in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, when lack of funding to support the team forced them to cancel the program.
"It's just something I can't even fathom, said Gomez. It's almost hard to believe that someone can tell you that you can't play. Especially in our state."
In a town with a population of roughly 300k, where winter occupies a majority of the year, the predominant activities in Anchorage are skiing, skating and sledding - and hockey is king.
"Friday & Saturdays were the biggest events in the entire town when the Seawolves (the University of Alaska, Anchorage hockey team) were playing, said Gomez. You can't even imagine. It's all we talked about Monday through Friday. The Sullivan Arena was jammed -we had to scalp tickets, you couldn't get one. It was the 'thing-to-do'. The University players were our idols and our heroes. They were our 'pro players'."
The college team in Anchorage serves as a symbol of hope for young, local athletes--hope in the possibility to continue playing a sport they love, hope for a scholarship someday, and if lucky, hope to play professionally; but for the Anchorage High School Girl's hockey team, their hope was confiscated.
In 2012 the girls were told that due to funding, this season would be their last.
"It's just not right"
Gomez's father and his foundation brought this issue to his attention. In 2013, through his Scotty Gomez Foundation, he financially sustained the program for the next two years through the 2015 season.
"It's an expensive sport. The majority can't afford it, explained Gomez. In order to advance, you have to play. You can't tell a kid, especially where I come from, you can't play. If that was the case, my parents couldn't afford it, who knows where I'd be."
The two-time Stanley Cup winner had help growing up from the Boys & Girls Club, who on the weekend would pass out gear as part of their Learn To Skate Program. Reciprocating the help he received as a youth just felt like his responsibility.
"It's our duty to help. That's how special this state is to me. Any Alaskan in my position would do the same."
Despite the generous donation, it wasn't enough to continue beyond 2016 - that is, until DICK's Sporting Goods stepped in. As part of their Sports Matter campaign, DICK's made a sizeable donation to the foundation to help Gomez keep the program alive through at least the 2018 season, including pay to play fees and $15,000 worth of brand new gear. During what was expected to be the girls' last game of the season, DICK's and the Scotty Gomez Foundation surprised the girls with the news (view video at the bottom of the article).
"DICK's was founded on the premise that 'sports make people better', said DICK's Sporting Goods, Vice President, Ryan Eckel. Our Sports Matter Program is tied into the founding philosophy of the company. When we came across the statistic that 27% of U.S. High Schools are projected to not offer ANY sports by 2020, this was alarming to us. So we've made a $25M multi-year commitment to fund youth's sports programs, like the one in Anchorage, Alaska."
Since last July, DICK's Sporting Goods has now fully funded over 1,000 projects across 730 schools. (You can learn more about the Sports Matter Program, here.).
As Gomez enters into the final phase of his NHL career, he shared with me during our conversation that he credits his parents for much of his success...
"They let me dream. I could be Wayne Gretzky all day long. That never got taken away from me."
Now thanks to Gomez, and DICK's Sporting Goods, the dreams of high school girls in Anchorage, Alaska, won't be taken away either.
Because to tell a child they can't play a sport...
..."It's just not right."